Saturday, June 2, 2007

Insomnia and Depression - a Common Link

Many people already know that depression can be a major cause of insomnia. When you’re so worried about life, it’s hard to clear your mind and get a good night’s sleep. But did you know that lack of sleep may lead to depression? Here is some information to help you understand the link between these two pressing problems.

When you think of a depressed person, you may picture them lying in bed all day, but even though they may not want to leave their bedroom, that doesn’t mean they’re sleeping. While only 15% of clinically depressed people get more sleep than when they’re feeling fine, more than 80% of them don’t get enough sleep. In fact, one of the best indicators of depression is someone who wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. While they tend to get about 6 hours of sleep a night, it’s still enough of a loss to become a problem.

So, does this mean you treat the depression and the sleep disorder goes away? Probably not. Recent studies have shown that the sleep disorder is what starts the cycle, not the depression. Many patients with clinical depression had trouble sleeping for up to five weeks before experiencing depression symptoms. If the person is treated for the sleep disorder while they are still in a normal emotional state, many of them don’t become depressed. However, as mentioned earlier, depression feeds the sleep disorder as well; once a person becomes depressed, their sleep disorder tends to worsen. Current research is pointing towards the fact that while insomnia may not cause depression, treating insomnia may result in fewer depressive episodes for someone diagnosed with clinical depression.

Research has shown that depression not only affects how much sleep a person gets, it also determines what kind of sleep they have. Someone with depression has a short and sometimes barely existent early stage of sleep. Instead of going through the normal sleep cycles, the brain skips forward to REM sleep; the type of sleep that lets us deal with our emotions and convert memories. Their brain also tends to stay in this stage longer than non depressed people. Besides skipping important and vital stages of sleep, depressed people may get different effects from REM sleep than non depressed people. They tend to convert memories incorrectly and put them in a more negative light. Researchers also think that depressed people and their families have this type of REM sleep even if they are not depressed.

It should be noted that these studies have been done on people with unipolar depression. These are people who get depressed, but never enter a manic phase. For those with manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, inability to sleep is completely different than in unipolar patients. It is actually normally associated with the manic phase of the disorder.

While the exact relationship between sleep and depression hasn’t been completely determined, it is obvious that there is a definite link between the two conditions. What is known is that if you are prone to depression and are experiencing insomnia, you should seek treatment immediately to avoid having a depressive episode.

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